Joel Yan, a Jewish lay spiritual leader and myself, Abigail Hirsch, a filmmaker/blogger from Montreal, were on our way home from a week-long retreat of classes and singing at the biannual Aleph Kallah at Franklin Pierce College. We were sharing with each other the spiritual teachings about the benefits of charity to both the giver and receiver: One teacher shared that the name of G-d is expressed and offers a feedback loop between the giver and the receiver in such a transaction, when the car suddenly simply stopped cold in front of a light at the Winchester crossroad between the town Hall and the gas station.
It was Sunday and both our families were expecting us back that day. Joel sent me to call the AAA from the gas station and Joel stayed with the car. No sooner had the car stalled than people started stopping, asking if we needed any help, offering to move the car off the road, to diagnose the problem and even to offer us shelter if we needed it.
• Katherine Stewart (originally from Ontario and a graduate of Joel’s alma mater, University of Toronto) stopped and gave Joel her phone numbers urging him to call if needed
• A man in a pick-up truck stopped and helped to diagnose the problem saying the same thing had happened to him with his Toyota Camry. – The cable broke disabling the automatic transmission and prompting the car to stop in its tracks. However, he also showed us how to put the car in gear manually from the engine to drive it if need be.)
• Bruce who lived across the street drove up in his pickup truck with his wife saying we should knock on his door if we needed a drink or somewhere to relax
• By this time Joel had taken out his music stand and guitar and was playing up a storm in the searing heat.
• Norm then drove up on his bike pulling a broken air conditioner and hung out with us for a while.
• The attendant at Mikes’ Market at the Mobil gas station at the corner allowed me to charge my phone, and use the bathroom saying, it wasn’t normally allowed but she was in charge for the moment.
Even the AAA truck driver who arrived after a two hour wait was especially kind,
explaining the car could be driven safely once it was in gear, and we really did not need to be towed to a garage.
But our very special mentsch/angel was Ralph Scott Britton. He had been directly behind us on a motorbike when the car broke down. First, he helped diagnose the problem, and push the car off the road. Then he stayed with us helping total strangers for over 3.5 hours. He waited with us for the AAA to come, advising us all along, and then escorted us to Keene behind his motorbike while we looked for a place to stay and a solution to the car problem. In the end, Scott trained Joel how to switch the gears manually under the hood and then watched and tested him making sure he could do it himself. Then, only when he was sure we were safe he sent us on our way. He refused any compensation for all his help and suggested only that we pass his good deeds along to others who were in need.
And thanks to Scott and all the other kind people we met, we made it safely with the broken cable, first to our friends in Vermont who put us up for the night, and the next day to Montreal and Ottawa to our respective families.
We feel that sharing these stories is a way of passing on the power of good will that we experienced in the tiny hamlet of Winchester. Thank you to all of you. You are clearly a community that cares.
“mentsch” a Yiddish word that means “a human being, a person who does the right thing when he sees what needs to be done, and brings honor to what is truly human.” sometimes known as an “angel”.
Joel Yan is a lay leader in the Ottawa Jewish community.
Abigail Hirsch is a documentary filmmaker who has just completed the film, Yiddish: a tale of survival which will be screened at the Montreal World film Festival: 2013.